09
Jan
14

Exhibition: ‘Gordon Parks: The Making of an Argument’ at The New Orleans Museum of Art

Exhibition dates: 12th September 2013 – 12th January 2014

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Another great photographer with a social conscience. Fantastic to observe the dynamics of the proof sheets and how the images were cropped for final publication. The angles, the angles of Red’s young brother are illuminating, to see how the photographer framed his subject, what worked, what didn’t. There is a relatively new boxed set of the complete works of this artist published by Stiedl titled Gordon Parks Collected Works (2012). Reasonably priced for a five volume set, I think this would be a must buy for any aficionado of his work.

Marcus

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Many thankx to The New Orleans Museum of Art for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

“”The Making of an Argument” evaluates the editorial decisions made by the magazine and, in doing so, comments on how the context in which a picture is presented can drastically alter its message. “In order to meet the expectations set up by the subtitle and the opening text, an overwhelming majority of the pictures selected underscore violence, fear, frustration, aggression, or despair. Of the twenty-one images reproduced, only five strike a lighter note,” writes Russell Lord, the curator of photographs at NOMA. Lord also notes that the ways the images were cropped and darkened further functioned to convey the magazine’s intended message.”

Genevieve Fussell on The New Yorker website

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Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Untitled, Harlem, New York' 1948

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Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Untitled, Harlem, New York
1948
Gelatin silver print, printed later
Courtesy The Gordon Parks Foundation

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Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Untitled, Harlem, New York' 1948

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Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Untitled, Harlem, New York
1948
Gelatin silver print, printed later
Courtesy The Gordon Parks Foundation

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Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Untitled, Harlem, New York' 1948

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Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Untitled, Harlem, New York
1948
Gelatin silver print, printed later
Courtesy The Gordon Parks Foundation

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Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Untitled, Harlem, New York' 1948

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Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Untitled, Harlem, New York
1948
Gelatin silver print, printed later
Courtesy The Gordon Parks Foundation

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This image shows both the full frame image that Gordon Parks shot and the cropped selection, framed in editor’s marking pen, that was ultimately published in Life magazine. The cropped version dramatically heightens the intensity of the image, bringing the viewer closer to the fight (see proof sheet below).

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Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Untitled, Harlem, New York' 1948

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Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Untitled, Harlem, New York
1948
Gelatin silver print, printed later
Courtesy The Gordon Parks Foundation

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Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Untitled, Harlem, New York' 1948

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Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Untitled, Harlem, New York
1948
Gelatin silver print, printed later
Courtesy The Gordon Parks Foundation

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Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Untitled, Harlem, New York' 1948

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Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Untitled, Harlem, New York
1948
Gelatin silver print, printed later
Courtesy The Gordon Parks Foundation

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The opening spread of "Harlem Gang Leader," Life, November 1, 1948

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The opening spread of “Harlem Gang Leader,” Life, November 1, 1948

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“This exhibition explores the making of Gordon Parks’ first photographic essay for Life magazine in 1948, “Harlem Gang Leader.” After gaining the trust of one particular group of gang members and their leader, Leonard “Red” Jackson, Parks produced a series of photographs that are artful, poignant, and, at times, shocking. From this large body of work (Parks made hundreds of negatives) the editors at Life selected twenty-one pictures to print in the magazine, often cropping or enhancing details in the pictures in the process. Gordon Parks: The Making of an Argument traces this editorial process and parses out the various voices and motives behind the production of the picture essay.

The exhibition considers Parks’ photographic practice within a larger discussion about photography as a narrative device. Featuring vintage photographs, original issues of Life magazine, contact sheets, and proof prints, the exhibition raises important questions about the role of photography in addressing social concerns, its use as a documentary tool, and its function in the world of publishing…

“This project raises important questions about the role of photography in addressing social concerns, its use as a documentary tool, and its function in the world of publishing,” said Susan M. Taylor, NOMA’s Director. “We are delighted to be working with The Gordon Parks Foundation on this exhibition since it is a project that addressed many of the major issues that Parks would explore throughout his career.”

In 1948, Gordon Parks began a professional relationship with Life magazine that would last twenty-two years. For his first project, he proposed a series of pictures about the gang wars that were then plaguing Harlem, believing that if he could draw attention to the problem then perhaps it would be addressed through social programs or government intervention. As a result of his efforts, Parks gained the trust of one particular group of gang members and their leader, Leonard “Red” Jackson, and produced a series of pictures of them that are artful, emotive, poignant, touching, and sometimes shocking. From this larger body of work, twenty-one pictures were selected for reproduction in a graphic and adventurous layout in Life magazine.

At each step of the selection process – as Parks chose each shot, or as the picture editors at Life re-selected from his selection – any intended narrative was complicated by another curatorial voice. Curator Russell Lord notes, “By the time the reader opened the pages of Life magazine, the addition of text, and the reader’s own biases further rendered the original argument into a fractured, multi-layered affair. The process leads to many questions: ‘What was the intended argument?’ and ‘Whose argument was it?’.”

Gordon Parks: The Making of an Argument examines these questions through a close study of how Parks’ first Life picture essay was conceived, constructed and received.”

Press release from the NOMA website

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Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Untitled, Harlem, New York' 1948

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Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Untitled, Harlem, New York
1948
Gelatin silver print, printed later
Courtesy The Gordon Parks Foundation

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Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Untitled, Harlem, New York' 1948

.

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Untitled, Harlem, New York
1948
Gelatin silver print, printed later
Courtesy The Gordon Parks Foundation

.

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Untitled, Harlem, New York' 1948

.

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Untitled, Harlem, New York
1948
Gelatin silver print, printed later
Courtesy The Gordon Parks Foundation

.

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Untitled, Harlem, New York' 1948

.

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Untitled, Harlem, New York
1948
Gelatin silver print, printed later
Courtesy The Gordon Parks Foundation

.

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Untitled, Harlem, New York' 1948

.

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Untitled, Harlem, New York
1948
Gelatin silver print, printed later
Courtesy The Gordon Parks Foundation

.

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Untitled, Harlem, New York' 1948

.

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Untitled, Harlem, New York
1948
Gelatin silver print, printed later
Courtesy The Gordon Parks Foundation

.

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Untitled, Harlem, New York' 1948

.

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Untitled, Harlem, New York
1948
Gelatin silver print, printed later
Courtesy The Gordon Parks Foundation

.

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Untitled, Harlem, New York' 1948

.

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Untitled, Harlem, New York
1948
Gelatin silver print, printed later
Courtesy The Gordon Parks Foundation

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The New Orleans Museum of Art
One Collins Diboll Circle, City Park
New Orleans, LA 70124
T: (504) 658-4100

Opening hours:
Tuesday through Thursday: 10 am – 6 pm
Friday: 10 am – 9 pm
Saturday and Sunday: 11 am – 5 pm
Closed Mondays

The New Orleans Museum of Art website

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Dr Marcus Bunyan

Dr Marcus Bunyan is an Australian artist and writer. His work explores the boundaries of identity and place. He writes the Art Blart blog which reviews exhibitions in Melbourne, Australia and posts exhibitions from around the world. He has a Dr of Philosophy from RMIT University, Melbourne and is currently studying a Master of Art Curatorship at The University of Melbourne.

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